Film Review: “Fantastic Beasts : The Crimes of Grindelwald”

 

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston
Directed by: David Yates
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 14 mins
Warner Bros.

Is “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” fantastic or criminal? The answer falls somewhere in the middle. This second installment of what is intended to be a series of “Fantastic Beasts” films, all from the mind of “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling, is a long-winded tale that lacks the charm of its 2016 predecessor. The story is predictably darker in tone, but a bulk of the over two-hour running time is a snooze fest.

Set in 1927, “Crimes of Grindelwald” begins excitingly enough as we watch Johnny Depp play the steely fanatical villain Gellert Grindelwald, regarded as one of the two most powerful wizards around, make a daring yet well-planned escape from the British Ministry of Magic. That’s when the story comes to a screeching halt as we are then forced into the world of mild-mannered Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he tries to get his international travel ban lifted.

Not much has changed with our hero since the original – he refuses to take sides, rarely makes eye contact with anyone, and has trouble communicating with the opposite sex. Newt is offered the chance to work alongside his brother for the Ministry of Magic in order to locate the powerful yet troubled Obscurial Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, “Justice League”), but he refuses. However, he cannot turn down his former teacher Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) so he travels secretly to Paris with his Muggle sidekick in-tow, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who’s fighting with wizard girlfriend Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol).

It’s all rather sluggish and overly contrived as we are bombarded with a dizzying array of plot points for not only this film, but also for the “Fantastic Beasts” sequels that are already planned. There is little in the way of suspense even though more and more characters are introduced who are trying to find Credence for a variety of reasons, some more mysterious or nefarious than others. Rowling’s story also tries to rekindle the endearing romance in the first film between Newt and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). Unfortunately, Rowling’s screenplay fails as their bumbling stumbling relationship feels like something straight out of a TV sitcom.

The character of Newt ends up becoming a boring, overshadowed distraction instead of a hero as we are left with wanting more of Law and Depp. Both are a treat to watch on the silver screen with Law successfully being able to make his own mark on a character already forged in the minds of “Harry Potter” followers by Michael Gambon and the late Richard Harris. Depp delivers one of his better performances as Grindelwald as he stays away from being overly quirky and gives his character a magnetic solemnity.

The pace is picked up in the last third of “Crimes of Grindelwald” as secrets are revealed, characters die, and those still living chose sides. Plenty of magical special effects abound but none are necessarily ground breaking or spell binding. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump and the “Fantastic Beasts” series will get better, but in the meantime it’s a disappointing pill to swallow.

Film Review “Fantastic Four”

Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kara Mara and Jamie Bell
Directed By: Josh Trank
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 100 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 1.5 out of 5 stars

I can only imagine the board room battles over comic book property going on in Hollywood right now. It will surely make for an interesting documentary one day. While Fox will surely hold on to the lucrative “X-Men” franchise as long as possible, it might be time for them to give up the “Fantastic Four” franchise. But then again, maybe the four superheroes just aren’t meant for the big screen.

The latest offering continues a long standing tradition of bad “Fantastic Four” movies. The 2015 movie adds itself to a short list of disappointments, although this one manages to stand out. It’s definitely the bleakest and has the most talented cast of young actors. But that stellar cast was chosen because of their youth, and that’s one of the main problems. The movie starts off with Reed Richards (Teller) and Ben Grimm (Bell) becoming the best pals in 2007 before quickly flashing forward to the present day. They go from eight-year-old looking elementary school classmates to 28-year-old looking high school students.

Reed’s getting ready to show off his finished product, an interplanetary matter transporter, at a high school science fair of all places. The teachers and principal shockingly shrug off the machine that has transported an object to another world, as a mere magic trick. But luckily Reed’s machine that could potentially produce a black hole is recognized by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey). He’s randomly browsing the high school science fair, accompanied by his daughter Sue (Mara), who doesn’t attend the school. It’s OK though, Storm operates a school for young aspiring scientists. So it’s completely normal that he’d be attending a tired high school movie cliché in search of another young aspiring scientist. I’m only into the first 10 minutes of this movie and I’m already frustrated with the idiocies of this movie.

Once Reed is recruited, he meets Sue’s brother, Johnny (Jordan). He’s a master technician, but a rebel, only made evident by a short scene where he drag races. Then inevitably, we meet Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Doom was actually working on an interplanetary matter transporter, called the Quantum. The government, and more specifically Dr. Storm, are investing in this idea because they want to find a solution to our Earthly woes by visiting a mystery planet.

Doom, who’s supposed to be the evil mad man, oddly enough takes a slightly sympathetic attitude about the whole project. He doesn’t believe we should discover a new planet and drain it of its resources just to save ourselves from sucking the Earth. Despite their differences in attitudes, the five youths combine their forces to create the gate, which obviously becomes a success. But frustrated with the fact they won’t be the first humans to traverse space and time, they go on an unsanctioned trip to the mystery planet, and I’m sure you know the rest. They get powers.

“Fantastic Four” is mercilessly thick with exposition without giving the viewer a reward for their investment into the plot. “Fantastic Four” glosses over loopholes, but stops to examine its duller aspects. It moves at an infuriatingly slow pace, while skipping over the possibility of some fun plot points. At times it feels like a hodgepodge of other directorial themes. It wants to be the “Dark Knight” trilogy in tone and tells poorly timed Marvel jokes without any of the charm or wit. Simply put, it’s a narrative hack job.

The action is light until the forced final battle between Dr. Doom and the Fantastic Four, but even then the fight is visually weak. “Fantastic Four” is like a small boy who spends all the time in the world setting up all the pieces for a game of Risk, but by the time he’s done, he simply throws the board across the room in a rash fit of rage. Give it up Fox. Let Marvel have the “Fantastic Four” back so they can give them a proper burial.

Blu-ray Review “Fantastic Mr. Fox (The Criterion Collection)”

Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe
Director: Wes Anderson
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Criterion Collection
Release Date: February 18, 2014
Run Time: 87 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 5 out of 5 stars

Even since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with the work of Roald Dahl. When I heard that Wes Anderson was going to give his unique approach to the “Fantastic Mr. Fox” story of with stop-motion puppets, I couldn’t have been more excited. The film is so much fun and speaks to both kids and adults. You can see how much work went into each second of the film and it is just amazing. It also includes an amazing voice cast with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon and Bill Murray. Every time I watch this film it only get better. Easily my favorites and finally it is given the Blu-ray treatment it deserves thanks to The Criterion Collection. This is a must own for any fan of this film!

Official Premise: “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is the story of a clever, quick, nimble, and exceptionally well-dressed wild animal. A compulsive chicken thief turned newspaper reporter, Mr. Fox settles down with his family at a new foxhole in a beautiful tree directly adjacent to three enormous poultry farms—owned by three ferociously vicious farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mr. Fox simply cannot resist.

When I see that a film is getting a The Criterion Collection release, you know that it is going to be taken care of. With “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, it actually did receive a solid Blu-ray release back in 2010, so I was very curious to see how they were going to one-up that release. Well, I was not let down at all with this new digital master, approved by director Wes Anderson. It has never looked better. The stop-motion animation really strives with the brilliant colors which are presented so beautifully. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio also with the fantastic score from Alexandre Desplat. It is well-balanced surround track and also a nice improvement from the previous release. Literally blown-away!

This Criterion Collection comes stocked with one Blu-ray and two DVDs for the film, with all content available in both formats. Now that is a real treat, so you have various options when wanting to watch this. Another great treat included is a a booklet featuring a new essay; a 2002 article on Dahl’s Gipsy House by Anderson; White Cape, a comic book used as a prop in the film; and drawings, original paintings, and other ephemera. I think companies have forgotten what it is like when you used to open a DVD or Blu-ray case and actually find a booklet or pamplet in there. Nowadays, it is bare-bones usually. Thankfully, Criterion holds that tradition and continues to deliver even outside of the film’s presentations.

If you own the 2010 Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox already, be advised that this new Criterion Collection comes stocked with great new extras not available on Blu-ray previously. Firstly, there is a very fun and interesting audio commentary with Wes Anderson. There are storyboard animatics for the entire film, this is a MUST watch! There is great footage of the actors voicing their characters, puppet construction, stop-motion setups, and the recording of the score. There are interviews with cast and crew. I am huge fan of stop-motion animation and I loved watching the puppet animation tests, it is really amazing (and very hard) work!

There is a fantastic photo gallery of puppets, props, and sets. There the Animated awards acceptance speeches. My favorite is an audio recording of author Roald Dahl reading the book on which the film is based. There is gallery of Dahl’s original manuscripts, this was really neat to get to dive into. There is also an interesting and in-depth discussion and analysis of the film. I think this film deserves a good discussion because even though it might be considered a kids film since it is animated, it really isn’t completely. Lastly there is the Stop-motion Sony robot commercial by Wes Anderson rounding out the extras.

Blu-ray Review “Fantastic Voyage”

Starring: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Pleasence, Arthur O’Connell
Director: Richard Fleischer
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: October 8, 2013
Run Time: 101 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

If you like science-fiction then you should know and love “Fantastic Voyage” released back in 1966. The film is the original psychedelic inner-space adventure. It delivered a great cast including Stephen Boyd, Donald Pleasence and Raquel Welch in her feature-film debut. The film also was awarded an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, which is definitely deserved. The director Richard Fleischer was also known for his amazing 1954 Disney classic “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. The film is a classic and only gets better with age, top that with a very impressive Blu-ray presentation and you have a winner here for sure!

The adventure of a lifetime occurs not in the outer reaches of space, but inside the human body. An elite team of medical and scientific specialists race to save a top government scientist who is suffering from a blood clot on the brain. Their mission: be reduced along with their submarine-like craft to microscopic size, enter the bloodstream of the ailing scientist, and journey to the brain to perform an emergency procedure. With only sixty minutes to complete their mission, the scientist find themselves fighting off an attack by white corpuscles, caught in a tornado-like storm in the lungs, and struggling to survive sabotage from one of their own.

Fox delivered a very impressive Blu-ray presentation. The film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects like I said and they look stunning with this 1080p transfer. For a film nearly 50 years old, the transfer gives it a really nice face life. There are two audio tracks for this Blu-ray including an DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. I liked the surround mix but I have to admit the mono really took it home for me personally. I felt that the 5.1 track delivered the sound well but for this film the original mono sound did it better.

The special features are quite impressive as well for the 1966 classic. There is a great commentary track from Film & Music Historian Jeff Bond. There is an Isolated Score Track with commentary by Film & Music Historians Jeff Bond, Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman. Not really a full isoalted track due to the commentary but still awesome. There is a featurette called “Lava Lamps & Celluloid: A Tribute to the Visual Effects of Fantastic Voyage”, a must see for fans of the film. There is a cool “Storyboard-to-Scene Comparison” for the Whirlpool Scene. Lastly there is the Original Theatrical Trailer included.